Before she was famous – another picture of ‘Mike’

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The Wood crew in front of NE181 JN-Mike ‘The Captains Fancy’
Back row L to R: Arthur Taylor (W/Op), R. Johnson (Nav), Francis Wood (Pilot), Les Hurcombe (A/B)
Front row L to R: Sgt Woolley (MU/Gnr) & Sgt. Mahoney (R/Gnr) – who is who, not known, Les Gibbs (F/E)
Courtesy Kevin King/Alf Gibbs.

Many thanks to Kevin, who after the post from Chris last night, passed on this fantastic early photograph of NE181 JN-Mike, ‘The Captains Fancy’. Based on the Op count and referring to the history of the aircraft that Chris has been working on, the images dates between the 15th and 16th August 1944.

The photograph is very interesting as it shows a relatively clear version of Capt. Reilly Ffoul – interestingly it also shows a tonal difference around the character and also a box around the Op bombs. My understanding is that the original matt black paint on the side of production Lancasters tended to be repainted once on Squadron (when a new lick of paint was required) with a less matte, but practically more durable black paint. The flatness of the paint around the Op tally and Reilly makes me wonder whether ‘Mike’ had had a second coat of this very matte paint and the painter had perhaps framed the existing artwork, rather than trying to paint to the edges of the artwork? Conversely, perhaps a coat of less matte paint had been used to clean up the edges of Reilly after he had been added to the aircraft and or it had been applied initially to provide a better ‘key’ for the paint work of the mascot and Op tally.

If you count the bomb tally, it appears that on the penultimate row, one bomb on the left hand side of the row seems to have been blacked out, discounting this, the Ops are 38, including this omission as it were, gives us 39 Ops. This in itself provided another conundrum – Kevin said that the photograph had come from Alf Gibbs, Flight Engineer with the Wood crew, but again referring back to the history produced by Chris,  John Scott’s crew flew number 38  and John Lethbridge’s  crew flew number 39 – checking the ORB showed that Alf had not been a fill-in on either of these Ops – so I mailed Kevin back with this query.

Kevin’s answer back was I suppose obvious ‘it makes a good photo for the folks back home…..‘ – doubly so if the boys had any idea how many Ops ‘Mike’ would end up flying with the Squadron and that we would all still be talking about it now!

13 thoughts on “Before she was famous – another picture of ‘Mike’

  1. ICBW

    Hi Simon,

    Hey, just looking through my NE181 records – the ORB for that 21st operation reads…

    The same twenty five aircraft detailed earlier (postponed until daylight) took off to attack the Vaires marshalling yard in daylight. All aircraft reached the target area, but only two identified the marshalling yard and bombed as ordered. The remaining crews abandoned their mission as instructed by the Master Bomber, and brought their bombs back to base, owing to 10/10ths cloud obscuring the target.

    Just thinking that the ground crews might have been told that because her bomb-load wasn’t dropped, the operation didn’t count and so was blacked out? Perhaps later, they were told the op DID count (as they reached enemy territort).

    Alternatively, on her 23rd op, the aircraft was recalled shortly after airborne, so maybe they meant to scrub this operation, but got the count wrong?

    Also of interest, it appears that later on, her bomb tally was repainted (or is it just me??) -the bombs her look a bit dissimilar, but later on they are much more alike…

    Fascinating! And this could be done for every aircraft that flew no doubt!!

    Cheers,

    Ian

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  2. ianbw12

    Great photo! Just looking through my NE181 records – the ORB for that 21st operation reads…

    The same twenty five aircraft detailed earlier (postponed until daylight) took off to attack the Vaires marshalling yard in daylight. All aircraft reached the target area, but only two identified the marshalling yard and bombed as ordered. The remaining crews abandoned their mission as instructed by the Master Bomber, and brought their bombs back to base, owing to 10/10ths cloud obscuring the target.

    Just thinking that the ground crews might have been told that because her bomb-load wasn’t dropped, the operation didn’t count and so was later blacked out? Perhaps after this, they were told the op DID count (as they reached enemy territory).

    Alternatively, on her 23rd op, the aircraft was recalled shortly after airborne, so maybe they meant to scrub this operation, but got the count wrong?

    Also of interest, it appears that later on, her bomb tally was repainted (or is it just me??) -the bombs her look a bit dissimilar, but later on they are much more alike…

    Great stuff though!! 🙂

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  3. Reg

    Great picture and the discussion leaves me with a question: did they paint these bombs each day after an OP or when there was some spare time (maintenance days???). The answer on this might give us a larger time window for the above picture than 15 or 16th of August

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  4. Tony Wood

    Great to see this photo. I have the original on my mantelpiece as my father was Francis Wood. I am already 20,000 words into a novel called the Captains Fancy. Great to see the MOTAT Lanc has been brought back to this livery.

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    1. 75nzsquadron Post author

      Hi Tony
      that sounds like an amazing project – if you want to share any extracts then please feel free to pass them on – I am sure our readers would love to see them – when do you think it will be complete ??

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      1. Tony Wood

        Would anyone know how I go about finding out what airfield(s) my dad (Francis Colin Wood) was stationed at during his time with 75 squadron.

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      2. Tony Wood

        Got sidetracked publishing 3 novels and working on the 4th. Then I will come back to Captains Fancy

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    2. Claire Singleton nee (Hurcombe)

      Hi Tony
      My Grandfather was Les Hurcombe pictured above with the lancaster and the other six air crew. My father was in the RAF too and still has the log books from my grandfathers missions. Perhaps he might be able to assist you with your book.

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    1. Reg Mulder

      To conclude a date between 15 and 16 august based on the painting is a bit of a fast step to me. How sure are we that bombs were painted each day? Or did they do this at maintenance time. This would also explain why we have some errors comparing ops with the body paintings

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  5. Michael Hurcombe

    As Les Hurcombe’s Son, I am thrilled to see the 75 New Zealand Sqn history and responses, including that of Tony Wood – Son of Francis Colin Wood. I still hold my father’s log book and a copy of the crew photo by the side of Lancaster M for Mike, the Captain’s Fancy.The Aircraft certainly flew from Mepal. I’m sure the Auckland Museum would be a wonderful sight to see.

    Many Regards to All of you Contributing,
    Michael

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  6. howard woolley

    It was very emotional to see the picture the crew outside the aircraft. Gunner Woolley was my dad, He never spoke much about the war, but told me once that if you survived more than 6 ops you were doing well. I don’t know exactly how many missions he went on, but l think it was a lot more than that, so he was one of the lucky ones.

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